Arab League says Syria withdrew tanks from cities

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Cairo, Jan 2: Syria's government has withdrawn heavy weapons from inside cities and freed about 3,500 prisoners but security forces continue to kill protesters even with foreign monitors in the country, the Arab League chief said on Monday.

Nabil Elaraby said pro-regime snipers also continue to operate in Syria and he demanded a complete cease-fire. But despite the regime's ongoing crackdown, he listed the achievements of the Arab League monitors since they began work.

The monitors are supposed to verify Syria's compliance with an Arab League plan to stop the 9-month-old crackdown on dissent. President Bashar Assad agreed to the plan on December 19. But since the Arab League monitors began work last Tuesday, activists say government forces have killed more than 150 people, the vast majority of them unarmed, protesters.

"Yes, there is still shooting and yes there are still snipers," Elaraby told a news conference in Cairo, where the Arab League is based. "Yes, killings continue. The objective is for us to wake up in the morning and hear that no one is killed.

The mission's philosophy is to protect civilians, so if one is killed, then our mission is incomplete." "There must be a complete cease-fire," Elaraby said. But he also said tanks and artillery have been pulled out from cities and residential neighborhood, food supplies reached residents and bodies of dead protesters recovered.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed that tanks had withdrawn from Syrian cities. But he said residents reported that the weapons were still a threat.

"They can bring the tanks back and use them to fight," Abdul-Rahman told The Associated Press. Elaraby did not say when the heavy weapons pulled out of cities, but Abdul-Rahman said it was on Thursday. 


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